3 Quick Tips for Helping An Anxious Dog
We live in a chaotic world. Many of us experience anxiety due to uncertainty, potential dangers, and stress. Well, guess what... our dogs can be anxious too! Below I have outlined a few quick tips for helping your anxious dog.
It is okay to comfort your dog. Contrary to some bad advice that can be found on the internet, you are not ruining your dog if you comfort them. In fact, you are probably helping! If your dog is terrified of thunderstorms, it is not going to reinforce their fear if you reassure them and comfort them during a storm. If you are scared about something, does someone comforting you make you want to be more scared? Probably not. It helps you feel better!
Less is often more. I know you want to help your fearful or anxious dog by helping them learn to "get over" their fears. Unfortunately, this good intention often makes our dogs more fearful. Instead, it can help anxious dogs to break down scary things into little tiny pieces, and work on building their confidence step by step. For example, if your dog is afraid of the car, your instinct may be to pick the dog up and take them for a long car ride to help get them used to it and show them that the car is not scary. Unfortunately, since dogs do not speak English, we cannot logically explain to them that the car is not dangerous. Instead, we can break down the scary car ride into pieces and pair those pieces with something fun!! For example, I love taking dogs on very short car rides to the nearest drive-thru and getting them a high-value snack. If jumping into the car is the scary part, you can work on having "car parties" with treats or toys nearby the car, until the dog is more comfortable to consider getting inside.
Consistency is key, Many dogs (and people) who experience anxiety benefit from predictability and routine! The more consistent you can make your dog's daily experiences and interactions, the better. Use the same cues and gestures with your dog when you are teaching them behaviors. Have new people interact with your dog in a consistent way. Try to stick to a regular routine so that your dog can predict what is going to happen next. Especially for events or procedures that make your dog nervous, try to make it as predictable as possible for them.
At the end of the day, anxious dogs need patience from their humans. Remember that they are not "misbehaving" to be spiteful, evil, or dominant if they are anxious. They are simply afraid and their worry is getting the best of their behavior. Remember that dogs do not see the world the way we do. It is perfectly normal in the dog world to think that vacuums, strangers, loud booms in the sky, and fast-moving buses are something to worry about. It is our job to protect them, advocate for them, and (when appropriate) humanely change their feelings about these things.